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John McCain's Sustainable Legacy of the Senate? The thumbs down



I asked these questions – and more – to Ross Baker Professor of Political Science at Rutgers University, and to someone who has spent much of his time in the Senate as Senior Advisor to Sens. Patrick J Leahy (D-Vt .) And Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.).

Our conversation, via email and easily edited for the river, is below.

Cillizza: Let's start with a simple word association: When you think of "Sen. John McCain", which words come to mind – and why?

Baker : Irascible but adorable. A sharp mind and a hot temper. And a junk food addict.

Cillizza : Was the young McCain, who entered the Senate in the mid-1

980s, distinctly different from the man we had seen in the Senate in his last decade? If yes how?

Baker : The 1980s McCain wanted to be one of the boys, fell into bad company and spent the next three decades on expiatory action. He spent years living through the Keating Five scandal, though he got away with a slap on the wrist. In his 2002 memoir, written after his loss to George W. Bush, he still lamented that spot on his shield.

Cillizza: What was McCain's greatest success as a senator? Biggest failure?

Baker : His greatest lasting feat was his dramatic second last no to crush ACA. His greatest temporary feat was McCain-Feingold [campaign finance reform].
My own highlight – though rarely remembered – was his takedown of the Jack Abramoff crew when he was chairman of Indian Affairs. He turned the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the entire Home Office upside down. He did important things with a small committee.
His biggest failure: his persistent support for the Iraq war despite the good bipartisan sentiment of the "Three Amigos". The Keating Savings & Loan scandal, of course, though McCain appreciated the situation over the others. This scandal clouded another hero, John Glenn.

Cillizza: If there is a list of the 15 largest senators ever, is McCain on it? Why or why not?

Baker : He's not up there with [Henry] Clay, [Daniel] Webster, [John] Calhoun, [Charles] Sumner and LBJ, but he's a lot nearer than Ted Cruz ever been. Only a few senators have taken such a huge farewell in recent years. He always had the media eaten out of hand. That's no small feat.

Cillizza: Finish this sentence: In 50 years, Senator John McCain will be remembered for ___________. Baker : Sad to say, but people will probably be confused The renaming of the Russell Senate Office Building for McCain would help, but how many people know who Phil Hart was?


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